Zbaszyn Refugees in Falenica

JDC Warsaw Office Locality Files 1939-1941

I’m happy to announce a new set of resources in the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy. I recently came across a set of files from the JDC Archives that is organized by town, and has all of the records scanned and online. These are referred to as the Warsaw Office, 1939-1941 Localities collection.

Zbaszyn Refugees in Falenica
Zbaszyn Refugees in Falenica
The documents in these files are for the most part correspondence between the Warsaw office of the American Joint Distribution Office and representatives of Jewish groups in over 500 different towns in Poland during the years 1939-1941. Frequently the group in the town was the German-organized Judenrat, although not always. Sometimes the organizations are local support organizations, and sometimes the letters are to individuals.

Some of these files consist of a single letter. Others have over 100 documents. While the letters can open up an important view into the lives of Polish Jews during the first years of the Holocaust, before the deportations to concentration camps, the more exciting feature of this collection are the lists.

Bolimow Matzah Recipients
Bolimow Matzah Recipients
Many of the towns have lists of people. These lists can be lists of all the Jews in the town, refugees from other towns, those who received financial assistance, and even those who received flour, matza and even herring. Considering the dearth of information on the lives of Jews during this period, I think these lists are incredibly important.

I did find some minor issues with the list of files which I tried to correct if I could. I’m also sending an e-mail to the JDC to mention them so they can be fixed. A few items on the list had incorrect links. Many of the items list the file language as English, even though essentially none of the files have any English in them. I think this must have been some default setting. Almost every file has documents in Polish, many have in German, and some are in Yiddish. A few files are just in German, but not too many.

These files will show up in over 500 Polish town pages (out of the more than 1400 on this site) in the Holocaust resource category. See the Holocaust category for the town of Żabno:

See that there’s a link to the Yad Vashem Ghetto Encyclopedia (in Hebrew), and a link at the end to the Yad Vashem Names database. In the middle is the link to the JDC Archive page, and you can see a short description on the contents underneath the resource title, as well as the NEW icon next to it showing that it’s been added in the last three months. When you click on the link you’re taken to the JDC Archives page for that collection:

Click on the Look Inside link to go to the list of files in this collection.
Click on the Look Inside link (in the red circle) to go to the list of files in this collection.
When you click on the Look Inside link, you’ll be shown the list of files for that collection:

Files for the town of Żabno
Files for the town of Żabno
If you click on one of the files you’re shown a summary for that file:

A file summary page. To see the actual scanned file, click on the PDF logo at the bottom of the page.
A file summary page. To see the actual scanned file, click on the PDF logo at the bottom of the page (circled in red).
When you click on the PDF logo, the PDF file of the scanned pages will load in your browser. You can then save that PDF to your computer if you want.

In adding links to these files in the Compendium, I’ve also added 39 new towns. When I started adding Polish towns, I thought my list was fairly complete. As I continued to find new towns that had Jewish communities and add them, I realized I would probably never be 100% complete. That said, however, the list of Polish towns on this site is now over 1400 towns. Each town has links to information that will confirm there was a Jewish community of some kind there. In some cases the community had 50,000 Jews, and in some cases it may have had less than 50. I’m not setting a lower bar on the number of Jews that lived in a community, as my goal is that anyone searching for information on their families in Poland will find their ancestral towns.

Pages of Testimony for the town of Żmudź
Pages of Testimony for the town of Żmudź
In order to confirm that there was a community in a town, I’ve searched for any other evidence I could find, including seeing if there are Pages of Testimony filed in Yad Vashem that show people having been born in the town. Sometimes it was enough to find an article mentioning the Jewish community there. I’ve tried my best to verify each town in the Compendium. Occasionally, it’s not 100% possible to know that the town being mentioned in the JDC files is the town I believe it to be. There are no GPS coordinates in the files. Having worked on these towns for several years now I have a fairly good sense of when a town is correct. If I’m really not sure, I generally leave out the town. As such there are several towns in with files in the JDC archives that I did not yet add. Also, as an aside, some of the towns with files are currently in Ukraine, and thus out of the scope of the Compendium town-level data. To see all the towns, see the original finding aid from the JDC Archives site.

Let me know what you find in the files. Post a comment below, or on the page of the file in the Compendium.

Watch my FB Live video explaining how to use the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy

Tonight I broadcast an overview of the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy on Facebook, which you can view below (or on Facebook itself). The B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy has over 25,000 Jewish genealogy resources covering over 200 countries. Find out more about it in this video:

Learn about the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy

Learn about the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy with over 25,000 resources for Jewish genealogy. Philip Trauring will show how the site works, what's available on it, and answer questions live.

Posted by Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More on Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Let me know what you think of the video. If you’re interested in me doing other videos, let me know in the comments.

More newspapers, Landsmanshaft cemetery sections, and convenience

This is a short update to describe some recent additions to the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy.

First, following up my earlier addition of hundreds of newspaper archives, I’ve started to add more newspapers from other sites. Dan Oren, as promised, the Lubliner Togblat has been added, so brush up on your Yiddish.

Second, I’ve added links from the Cemetery Project of the Museum of Family History. The Musuem is a web site put together by Steven Lasky that has lots of great information. The Cemetery Project includes lists of surnames from different Landsmanshaft cemetery sections from the NY/NJ area, including information on the entrance gates to sections that have them (that usually have information on the people who ran the Landsmanshaft), as well as many Holocaust memorials put up by those societies.

In order to conserve space, I have put all the Musuem links into a single entry in the Diaspora section of the Polish town pages. If there are pages for the town for all three categories (Surnames, Society Gates, and Holocaust Memorial), then it would look something like this:

Musuem of Family History

You can see the links for all three pages for the town.

I’ve written about Landsmanshaftn cemetery sections before, such as in Learning about Landsmanshaftn and More on Landsmanshaftn, and for those who are not sure where their family came from before the US, figuring out if they were buried in a Landsmanshaft cemetery section can be an important clue.

Keep in mind they may have ended up in a section because their spouse was from that town, or because an ancestor further back was from that town, but in any case, it’s still very useful and the surname lists and lists of sections associated with each town on this site are very useful.

Lastly, you may have noticed the ‘New’ icons in the above screenshots. This is a new feature of the site that will show you if a link was added or updated in the last three months. I actually added this awhile back but there was a bug that didn’t always display it. It is now working, however, so if you go to any page on the site and see that icon, you know the resource was added to this site recently. This is convenient if you want to revisit the town page every few months, and see quickly if something new has been added.

Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

I get asked by a lot of people how to get started in researching their family. This entire site is dedicated to helping people do just that, but after eight years of writing articles and creating resources like my forms, and the B&F Compendium of Jewish Genealogy, it’s still hard for someone completely new to genealogy to know what to do first. My goal here is to guide someone completely new on what to do first, what is useful on my site, as well as what other sites are useful. So if you’re new to genealogy, this will help you get started.

What do you already know?

It seems obvious, but the first thing you need to do is figure out what you know, which will help you figure out what you don’t know. You start this process by asking whoever in your family may know information. Depending on your age, this might be your parents, or grandparents, or whoever are the oldest relatives in the line you are researching. When reaching out to these relatives, you want to not only ask for information, but if they or another relative might have documents that show this information. Always ask if they know of a relative that has already researched the family history. Many families have a cousin that has already done research, and already collected documents and photographs. They may remember a cousin or an uncle that has collected information on the family, and even if that person is not alive now, you may still be able to find information from that relatives’ descendants.

When getting started I always suggest starting with paper forms. There are many great computer programs and web sites for organizing your genealogy, and I do recommend using them but especially when meeting with older relatives, working with a piece of paper is usually easier, and it has the advantage of making it very clear which fields in the form you have not filled in yet (and thus need to ask about/research). On my site you can download several different forms, in English and in Hebrew.

I suggest starting with the Ancestor Form with yourself as the source person at the bottom, and adding in the details on your parents and grandparents. Are you able to fill in all the fields on the form? Do you know where all of your grandparents were born? What their exact birth dates were? Do you have documentation for any of the information, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, ketubahs, passports, etc.?

Once you’ve filled out the form, add Sibling Forms for each of your parents and grandparents, or Family Forms for their parents (which will provide similar information but include the parents, and will show their siblings as children of the parents). As you work your way out further, you’ll see that you probably know less information. That’s okay – this is just the first step in building out your family tree.

When you’ve built out several of these sheets, and you see what information you’re missing, you will have a good idea at least for what information to starting looking for. Continue reading Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy

Tracks of two visits to Okopowa St. Cemetery

Learning from Okopawa St.

I’ve had a lot to write since visiting the Okopowa St. Jewish Cemetery a few weeks ago, but have too busy to put it all together. After my first visit hours after arriving in Poland that Sunday, I wrote my initial thoughts in Practical suggestions when photographing cemeteries. I visited a second time a few days later on Wednesday and I wanted to share my thoughts on that visit, and what I’ve had time to think about since returning from Poland.

GPS Mapping

The first thing I wanted to discuss is the idea of using GPS to help map the sections of a cemetery. While the Okopowa St. Cemetery has several maps, once you’re on site, they’re only useful in a general sense. It would be amazing if there could be an app that would show you which section you were in on a moving map. In my earlier post I showed an overlap on a satellite image of where I walked on the first day, which was densely packed in Section 1, and then a walkabout around the cemetery.

On the second visit, I photographed more of Section 1, which you can see in this new map:

Tracks of two visits to Okopowa St. Cemetery
Tracks of two visits to Okopowa St. Cemetery

The original path from Sunday is shown in dark blue, and the second path from Wednesday is in light blue. This is a close up showing just the part of Section 1 I visited. There is overlap, and you can see I photographed gravestones to the right of the original area, as well as to the left. All of this is still Section 1 in the cemetery. Continue reading Learning from Okopawa St.